Hailey Swirbul

With Americans and foreigners competing, the U.S. National Cross Country Skiing Championships sometimes features a race-within-a-race.

Hailey Swirbul’s second straight win on Wednesday was relatively straightforward: the Alaska Pacific University standout bested all competitors in Houghton, Mich., coming from behind in the classic sprint to claim her fifth national title.

Luke Jager’s U.S. sprint title was more complicated.

Jager, an Anchorage native and 2022 Olympian now representing the University of Utah, was actually the third racer to cross the finish line of the men’s final. However, the two Norwegians ahead of him were only eligible for the overall podium — not the U.S. podium that is reserved for American athletes.

That meant Jager, the top qualifier who led the entire race before Kristoffer Karsrud of Northern Michigan University and Magnus Boee of Colorado University double-poled past him on the homestretch, won his first U.S. national championship — just not outright like he’d have preferred.

Luke Jager

This was the second time Jager experienced disappointment near the finish line of a national championship. In 2020 at the same venue, Jager was in position to claim a narrow victory but fell just before the line. By the time he scrambled across, Canadian Julien Locke and fellow Alaskan Hunter Wonders had gone by, relegating Jager to second American and third overall.

Plenty of other Alaskans had good sprint days on the Michigan Tech University trails.

Zanden McMullen of Anchorage won the bronze (and placed fifth overall) in the men’s final, while Kendall Kramer of Fairbanks had the same result in the women’s race. Kramer’s teammate at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Mariel Pulles of Estonia, won second place overall after Swirbul held her off in a double-pole drag race by .48 seconds.

In the junior men’s final, Derek Richardson of APU took fourth while Marley Ireland of Anchorage — who ranked 28th among 30 skiers qualifying for the heats — placed fifth overall. Ireland was one of only two skiers under age 18 in her final.

The national championships conclude with a classic mass start race on Friday.

American men break through at Tour de Ski; Brennan now 8th

Long overshadowed by the U.S. women’s team — with current stars Jessie Diggins and Rosie Brennan and now-retired gold medalist Kikkan Randall — the upstart American men made their mark Tuesday in the third race of the Tour de Ski in Oberstdorf, Germany.

Hunter Wonders

In a 10-kilometer interval start classic race held in above-freezing conditions, Anchorage’s Hunter Wonders, 24, achieved a career-best 11th place in just his 19th World Cup start. Anchorage teammates Gus Schumacher notched 15th and Scott Patterson was 29th. They were all outdone by Vermont’s Ben Ogden, who shocked onlookers by placing a career-best sixth.

Then on Wednesday Patterson recorded the top Alaskan men’s finish, placing 17th in a 20-kilometer skate pursuit. Wonders was 19th and Schumacher 26th.

“I am feeling good — the next two races will be fun and with my training and background, when people start getting tired, I start moving up the ranks, so I am excited for Val di Fiemme!” Patterson told U.S. Ski and Snowboard.

The seven-stage Tour is off on Thursday before resuming Friday with the first of three races in Val di Fiemme, Italy.

After four stages, Wonders ranks 25th, Patterson is 26th and Schumacher is 31st among 74 remaining skiers (27 others began the Tour but have since withdrawn).

Rosie Brennan

On the women’s side, Rosie Brennan of APU continued her consistent skiing, placing 11th in Tuesday’s 10K classic and 13th in Wednesday’s 20K pursuit.

Brennan now ranks eighth overall, 2 minutes and 36 seconds behind leader Frida Karlsson of Sweden.

Brennan sounded unsatisfied in an email to multiple media outlets after Thursday’s race, which she mostly skied in a group that chased the leaders.

“I didn’t have the legs I hoped for today but was able to stay strong and remain in the pack I started with so while it wasn’t a stellar finishing place, it kept me steady in the tour and sometimes that’s the best you can do,” Brennan said. “I’m looking forward to a day of rest and hopefully finding some strength to finish this off with a bang.”

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